A hazy shade of Beijing

I arrived in Beijing yesterday — and was immediately struck, even before landing, by the dirty haze that shrouds the city. I had read, of course, about how polluted Beijing has become, but reading about it does not convey just how filthy the air is.

Beyond the pollution, it is hard to believe the scale of the city, in particular the monumental scale of buildings and avenues. China may be a “socialist market economy,” but the style of its capital is more Bucharest than Tokyo. (Of course, the similarities with a city like Bucharest are strengthened by the landscape’s being dotted with communist-style apartment blocks that stand alongside the new glittering architectural wonders built for the 2008 Olympics.)

Meanwhile, there’s no confusing China for Japan. The impression I get is that, economically, China is like a vastly super-sized version of one of the Southeast Asia tigers, in its frenetic pace and fiercely materialistic, crass capitalism.

I realize that none of these observations are particularly novel, but these aspects of the “new China” are immediately apparent, and highlight the contradictory nature of Chinese development.

More in the coming days…

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